Retired Hurt

The fundamental question in Pakistan is not whether Khan was a self-centered leader who hadn’t delivered the promised good governance but whether the no-trust motion was an organic political process

WHEN legendary cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan took guard as Pakistan’s 22nd Prime Minister in August 2018, he brought with him the vision of “Naya Pakistan.” The vision carried conviction as it came from a new leader with a heroic cricketing career - Khan led Pakistan to its only world cup victory in 1992 - and two decades of struggle as a politician. In his first address to the nation, he kept his focus on the internal challenges of Pakistan. He promised wide-ranging reforms with a focus on safeguarding Pakistan's resources and their redistribution from the rich to the disadvantaged. He outlined an ambitious goal of getting Pakistan to stand on its feet instead of “begging foreign countries for loans.” But like all his predecessors, Khan couldn’t complete his term. Three and a half years on, he has been unceremoniously ousted from power through a no-trust motion, meeting the fate of his predecessors.

As things stood, Khan wasn’t succeeding in what he had set out to do. For the better part of his time, Khan’s idealism got ahead of himself, making him oblivious to the realities of Pakistan’s politics, the country’s many vulnerabilities, and the evolving geo-political situation. He pursued an independent foreign policy against heavy odds, in the process alienating Pakistan from its benefactors in the west, especially the US, still the sole superpower of the world. He tried to improve the country’s battered economy but failed miserably.

But should this have led to his ouster? Why not. But only if the no-confidence motion that was brought against him by Pakistan’s combined opposition hadn’t appeared like a regime change operation sponsored by a foreign power, this time publicly identified as the United States.

The fundamental question in Pakistan is not whether Khan was a self-centered leader who hadn’t delivered the promised good governance. The performance of most of the governments is a blend of good, bad, and ugly. The image of a government depends on what narrative you are able to build and how widely, forcefully and even forcibly you are able to disseminate it through diverse channels of information.

The question in Pakistan is whether the no-trust motion was an organic political process or abetted by a foreign power. That had to be resolved first as that was the elephant in the room. But other than Khan and his party, no other Pakistani institution, let alone the opposition seemed to be bothered by it. Nor did they engage with the allegation made by the sitting prime minister of the country.  The opposition made little effort to absolve itself or build a counter-narrative other than dismissing the letter, first as fake and then as routine communique from Washington. Instead, a steady focus was kept on the no-confidence motion and respecting the country's democracy and constitution.

But both are of no worth if the country’s strings are seen to be pulled by the other country which not only undermines a country’s democracy but more damagingly its sovereignty. The issue here is not whether there was foreign intervention in Pakistan’s internal affairs or not but to rule it out before you proceed with the no-trust motion against the incumbent government.

That said, it is again an idealistic reading of the situation. Such a course of action wasn’t possible in the kind of political system Pakistan has developed over the years. It has had staggered shots at democracy with the military which has directly ruled the country for a significant amount of time believed to be calling the shots from behind the scenes.  So, there has been no organic growth of democracy. All Pakistani prime ministers so far have had their terms cut short and then their continuation in politics subverted. As a result, no democratic leader has been allowed to grow to his full potential let alone realize his political vision for the country. Nor does it look likely that this will happen in the future. The Army is generally believed to be the only stable and powerful institution in the country and will likely be so in the future.

Does this mean that Khan’s turbulent political innings has come to an end? Unlikely so. That is, unless the system doesn’t see to it that he is kept out of circulation in the years to come. Khan out in the streets could be much more disruptive for Pakistan. He has used the run up to his exit to a great effect, creating a cogent narrative around foreign interference in Pakistan’s affairs and mobilizing people. He has succeeded to a large extent in discrediting the new rulers whom he has accused of being American agents. This will make his opponents’ stint in the government difficult: their every move will be watched and more often than not read as a compromise dictated by the US.

What is more, in Khan, anti-Americanism which runs deep in Pakistan and has so far gone abegging for a political expression, has found its most recognizable face. Tapping into the deep reservoir of this sentiment, Khan could be expected to return to power with a landslide majority in the next election - that is,  if the situation follows its logical and of course organic trajectory.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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